Israel and Jewish Experience – Ksharim curriculum
A broad and in-depth curriculum for adults – 43 fully annotated sessions – Israel throughout all aspects of Jewish text and Jewish life: from Israel in the bible, to Jewish holidays, Jewish history, liturgy, life cycle events, contemporary issues, and beyond.
This curriculum was written by Rabbi Dr. Marc Rosenstein, and co-authored by Sigalit Ur and Tova Sacher (of the Galilee Foundation for Value Education), in a joint development project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and Makom.
We will discuss the covenantal view of history and its implications for our reading of the biblical historical narrative and rabbinic texts; does God determine history as a response to our merits/sins? Does this imply we should undertake a passive role when national disasters occur, since they are simply the hand of God dealing out our due punishment? Is there a rational way to interpret the same concept of historical consequences for our actions? How do we relate to and teach this concept after the Holocaust? What does this mean for the modern State of Israel – do we have an unconditional right to the Land, or is it dependent upon our actions?
This lesson looks at our relationship to the land through an ecological lens. What can we learn from the Bible regarding the general obligation of humans to care for the earth vs. their right to exploit it for their benefit? And what obligations, if any, do we have as Jews to care for the natural resources and landscape of the Land of Israel? Today it is common in the west to speak of our species’ obligation to use the land without abusing it, to see our benefiting from the land as conditional upon our respecting it. We tend to associate these ideas of integration of human activity into the cycles of nature as vaguely pagan in origin or in spirit. The question is: in an ecological perspective, what kind of relationship to the land do we find in Jewish sources? How does the modern enterprise of reclaiming and settling the Land of Israel relate to Jewish ecological concepts?
The period from the conquest of the land under Joshua to the crowning of Saul as king raises a number of interesting questions with modern relevance. Regarding the conquest itself, there are questions on two levels: a) did it really happen as described in the book of Joshua? Internal biblical evidence – and, possibly, archaeology – cast doubt on the account of the Israelites’ rapid and total conquest ofCanaan; if so, what do we do with the contradiction and how do we teach it? b) how do we respond to our own and our students’ moral concerns about the bloody account of the conquest? And of course, the question of the morality of conquest hovers over the discussion of the modern state ofIsraeltoo.
Another issue is that of Israelite identity. The Book of Judges seems to depict a land inhabited by a number of disparate and sometimes even warring tribes, each absorbed in its own local conflicts with neighboring non-Israelite tribes; only in the face of a powerful common enemy does any kind of political union form – and only temporarily. Different theories have been proposed regarding the formation of the Israelite nation during this period; how might these affect our understanding of Jewish identity past and present?
The Exodus from Egypt and the forty years of wandering are traditionally seen as the formative period in the building of the Israelite nation — the transition from “family” history to “national” history. However, the biblical text makes it clear that many years passed after the entry into Palestine before the Israelite people were anything like a united nation. In terms of the creation of a national entity and a national identity, a major turning point came with the establishment of the monarchy; a further consolidation occurred with the enthronement of the Davidic dynasty. This lesson will investigate the transition from tribal confederation to established dynastic monarchy.
In looking at different biblical depictions of our connections to Israel, we find the promises and sojourns of the Patriarchs, the promises and instructions in the desert, the conquest and struggles of Joshua and Judges – and now, the creation of a proper kingdom of the Jews in their land, with a capital and a central government and all its institutions – including a centralized religious cult. It is the collective memory of this period of glory that has informed our messianic vision ever since it ended. To Full Post
David (with help from the Philistine enemy) succeeded in creating a united kingdom of all the tribes, and withstanding a number of challenges to his sovereignty. His successor Solomon continued the work of consolidation and institutionalization, the crown of this effort being of course the Temple. Clearly, Solomon’s Temple continues to serve as a crucial symbol in Jewish consciousness and belief, and a key factor in the traditional connection to Eretz Yisrael.
The glory was short-lived: already with Solomon’s death centrifugal forces dominated, and the kingdom was re-divided with the ten northern tribes splitting off from Judah and Simeon. 200 years later, the northern kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians, who apparently adopted a policy of destroying the national identities of subject peoples by forced migrations – and thus the ten tribes disappeared from history and moved into legend. Our sovereignty over the land was restricted to the area of Judah – until it too was lost just over a century later. (see next lesson)
The question that is relevant for us to consider as we examine these events is: what is the ideal relationship among Jewish religion, a Jewish state, and the land of Israel? How do we feel about “the good old days” of Solomon? How do we respond to the traditional idealization of that period? To Full Post
After the forced exile of the 10 tribes from the kingdomof Israel, Judahcarries on alone. It continues to be buffeted by the clashes between the great powers on its borders, and its kings must choose their alliances wisely. The kings of Judahare not always successful in this, and Judahis swept by a series of invasions which ultimately end in the exile of the top echelons of society, the destruction of the temple, and the termination of Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael. To Full Post
After all the promises and all the tests, and the centralization of our connection to God in the Temple, the destruction of the Temple and of our sovereignty constituted a major spiritual crisis. It seems likely that many people saw this disaster as evidence that God was a failure, or non-existent. The prophets’ challenge was now not just to get the people to obey the laws, but to get them not to give up on the whole project. At first, the assumption was that this disaster was indeed a punishment, but that it would pass: we had paid the price of our sins, so now God could forgive us and get over His anger, and restore an anointed king of David’s line (anointed one = mashiach = messiah), and the Temple service. As time went on, however, this neat picture never materialized, and we had to find a way to cope with painfully . and indefinitely postponed redemption. And so, as the messiah receded into the future, he loomed larger and larger in terms of his expected role in the world. At the same time, we learned to live (mostly) with a “permanent” tension between present reality and our imagined utopian restoration to the good old days (that were not as good as we imagined them).
This lesson traces the development of the messianic concept, and looks ahead at its impact on later Jewish history. Our relationship to the land of Israel – and the state of Israel – is intimately tied up with this powerful and interesting concept.
The destruction of the First Temple and the exile of the elites to Babylonia were of course a huge shock to our system, theologically, socially, and politically. It seems that the people’s expectation, encouraged by the prophets, was that this punishment would be a harsh but passing blow – that in the near future God would relent and accept our repentance and restore our sovereignty and our connection to Him through the Temple ritual (see, for example, Jeremiah 29). And indeed, so it happened – with the Persian conquest of Babylonia, a new policy was instituted, and the emperor Cyrus allowed the restoration of autonomy in Judah and the rebuilding of the Temple (but not, significantly, the restoration of the monarchy!) just 50 years after the destruction. Therefore it is remarkable that the response was . not a mass return, but rather a trickle, with many of the exiles choosing to stay in their new home. And thus was created the model of Diaspora Jewish life coexisting with a Jewish state. Moreover, the process of rebuilding and reorganizing the community in Israel was difficult and frustrating, and didn’t look much like the promised redemption. The period of Shivat Tziyon therefore offers suggestive parallels to our own modern situation of Israel-Diaspora coexistence. This unit explores the somewhat sketchy historical knowledge we have of the period, focusing on the apparent dilemmas raised by the exiles’ ambivalent response to the possibility of restoration.
As mentioned in Lesson 1, this course is based on the assumption that in liberal Jewish education, the three primary texts are the Bible, the Siddur, and the calendar; thus about two thirds of the course meetings focus on study of these sources, with the last third devoted to modern history and current issues. The emphasis in the first third, the Bible section, has been on helping participants maintain their alertness to the opportunities for teaching Israel in just about any Bible lesson. After all, the Bible is a book about God, the Jewish people, and the Land of Israel. However, in recent generations, the land has lost some of its centrality, at least in liberal Jewish classrooms in North America. So, first of all, this course seeks to refocus the teaching of Bible, to keep Israel always within the field of vision; the Bible must be understood and taught as not only the biography of God, nor only the history of the Jewish people, but as the story of the three-way relationship of God, people, and land.
This lesson seeks to present an opportunity to step back and reflect on some of the underlying questions that must be addressed in our teaching of this relationship.
With the conquest of the Middle East by Alexander the Great (331 BCE), Judah confronted a new cultural context, different in important ways from the cultures of Mesopotamia that had dominated the region for almost 500 years. The dilemma of how to draw the line between faithfulness to the Torah and acceptance of values and behaviors from the dominant culture became more complicated during the Hellenistic period than in the days of the First Temple. The same problem of the connection between political and cultural independence continued to exist, but was made more difficult by certain emphases of Hellenistic culture: on individualism, on cosmopolitanism, and on rationalism. These qualities made it possible for the individual Jew to define an integrated identity, incorporating elements of both Jewish and Hellenistic cultures. Thus, the meeting with Hellenism confronted Judaism with new challenges.